State v. Gael Weston

Decision Date16 July 1999
Docket Number97CA31,99-LW-3175
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee v. GAEL WESTON, Defendant-Appellant Case
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Raymond H. Smith, Jr., Assistant Washington County Public Defender, 330 Fourth Street, Marietta, Ohio 45750.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Alison L. Cauthorn, Assistant Washington County Prosecuting Attorney, 205 Putriani Street, Marietta, Ohio 45750.

DECISION

Evans J.

The defendant-appellant, Gail Weston, was charged with the murder of one Lester Sevy, with whom she was residing at the time of his fatal stabbing, which occurred about midnight on the evening of May 1 or the early morning of May 2, 1996. An indictment was returned against her on the charge of murder R.C. 2903.02(A) on May 16,1996. After a five-day jury trial commencing on July 14, 1997, appellant was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, R.C. 2903.04(A). On August 18 1997, she was sentenced to the Marysville Correctional Institution for a term of eight to twenty-five years.

A timely notice of appeal was filed presenting four assignments of error for our review:

I.

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR JURY INSTRUCTIONS ON THE BATTERED WOMAN'S SYNDROME.

II.

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT ADMITTED THE TESTIMONY OF GAEL WESTON INTO EVIDENCE PERTAINING TO PLEADING GUILTY TO INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER.

III.

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIED THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS WITH RESPECT TO GAIL WESTON'S UNMIRANDIZED STATEMENT.

IV.

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO IN INTRODUCE A SERIES OF VIOLENT ACTS TO CORROBORATE GAIL WESTON'S TESTIMONY REGARDING SPECIFIC BAD ACTS PERFORMED BY LESTER SEVY.
Statement of the Case

The events of May 1, 1996, and May 2, 1996, resulting in the death of Lester Sevy at the hands of the appellant, took place in Belpre Township, Washington County, Ohio, in a mobile home on Lot 17 of the Camelot West Trailer Park, the residence of the appellant and the victim.

About midnight on the evening of May 1, 1996, the Belpre Police Department received a call from the appellant requesting assistance. The Belpre Fire Department emergency squad and the Washington County Sheriff were dispatched to the scene. Fireman Eric Sinnett was first to arrive at the mobile home where he found an elderly man slumped beside a chair in the living room. Appellant identified the man as Lester Sevy, age sixty. At first she said he had fallen, then she said he stabbed himself in a suicide attempt. Mr. Sinnett discovered a one-inch wound under Mr. Sevy's left armpit and a considerable amount of blood from this wound.

At approximately 12:30 a.m., May 2, 1996, Washington County Sheriffs Deputy Richard Hays arrived at the scene. A second emergency squad had arrived and was performing cardiopulmonary resusitation on Mr. Sevy while appellant was on the telephone in another part of the living room. When the squad members advised Deputy Hays that Mr. Sevy could not be revived, he escorted appellant out of the trailer and placed her in the back of his cruiser. By that time, other deputies and their captain, Chris Forshey, had arrived. Deputy Hays stayed with appellant while the other deputies secured the crime scene.

Deputy Hays testified that appellant had blood on her clothes, an odor of alcohol about her, and appeared to be intoxicated. Since the deputy did not want her to return to the crime scene, he placed her in the back seat of his cruiser where she remained for about two hours. He did not arrest her however, and permitted her to smoke while sitting with the cruiser door open.

Both Deputy Hays and Captain Chris Forshey questioned her for identification purposes and to identify the victim and any next of kin. She volunteered several statements, repeating her previous story that Mr. Sevy had stabbed himself and that she had removed the knife. Captain Forshey also testified that the appellant appeared intoxicated and that he did not attempt to explain her "Miranda" rights because he felt she was too intoxicated to consent to any questioning. He also testified that at one point appellant stated there had been a murder, but she corrected herself and reiterated her story of the suicide.

Detective James Moon arrived at the crime scene at 3:00 a.m. in the Washington County Sheriff s crime scene van with a search warrant for the mobile home. He escorted appellant to the van in order to gather trace evidence. While gathering samples of blood spattered on her skin, he asked if she had any injuries. He noticed one fingernail had been bent back to the quick, scraped knuckles, and some bruises, but no obvious injury that would cause extensive bleeding. Detective Moon testified that he too noticed a strong smell of alcohol from the appellant. I saw a murder," changing this to I saw someone die."

By this time, appellant's mother had arrived at the scene. Appellant became belligerent with Detective Moon, and appellant's mother refused to take appellant home with her. Appellant was then arrested, taken to the Washington County Jail, and charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

On the morning of May 2, 1996, at 8:25 am., Captain Forshey interviewed appellant at the Washington County Jail. Deputy Hays was also present, standing in the doorway of the interrogation room. Both officers testified that appellant was much calmer and more coherent than she had been earlier that morning, though she still retained some odor of alcohol about her person. Captain Forshey read the "Miranda" warnings to her, using a card he carried for that purpose. Appellant replied that she understood these rights, and Captain Forshey began the interview.

Appellant told Captain Forshey that she had been living with the victim for about two years, but she had decided the relationship was over and she was going to leave. She stated that they had been fighting for some time. On the evening of May 1, 1996, the confrontation became more intense and violent. She tried to leave the mobile home, but Mr. Sevy prevented her from doing so. Finally, Mr. Sevy picked up a knife from the kitchen and threatened her. Appellant stated that while Sevy held the knife by its handle, she grabbed the knife by the blade, got it away from the victim, and stabbed him once under the left arm.

After reviewing these events with Captain Forshey, appellant stated to him that she knew she was going to be charged with murder, and she would just as soon plead to involuntary manslaughter because she didn't intend to kill Mr. Sevy.

The appellant was charged with the murder of Lester Sevy. She subsequently filed a motion to suppress any statements made by her at the scene of the crime. After a hearing on September 23, 1996, the court denied her motion, finding these statements to be voluntary and not the product of a custodial interrogation.

On February 5, 1997, appellant filed a motion in limine, seeking to be allowed to use expert testimony to establish battered woman syndrome and seeking to introduce specific evidence of bad acts by the victim, Lester Sevy, to corroborate her testimony. The court allowed the first request but denied the second. The matter was set for trial on July 14, 1997.

On July 11, 1997, the appellant submitted proposed jury instructions relating to self-defense and the battered woman syndrome. The trial court rejected these proposed instructions and formulated its own charge.

OPINION
I

Appellant's first assignment of error takes issue with the trial court's rejection of her proposed jury instructions on the battered woman syndrome and the resulting use of the court's own jury instructions relating to this issue.

Generally, a trial court has broad discretion in deciding how to fashion jury instructions. State v. Blair (Dec. 4, 1997), Meigs App. No. 96CA7, unreported. The trial court must not, however, fail to "fully and completely give the jury all instructions which are relevant and necessary for the jury to weigh the evidence and discharge its duty as the fact finder." State v. Comen (1990), 50 Ohio St.3d 206, 553 N.E.2d 640, paragraph two of the syllabus. Additionally, a trial court may not omit a requested instruction if such instruction is "a correct, pertinent statement of the law and [is] appropriate to the facts * * *." State v. Lessin (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 487, 493, 620 N.E.2d 72, 77, citing State v. Nelson (1973), 36 Ohio St.2d 79, 303 N.E.2d 865, paragraph one of the syllabus. In determining whether to give a requested instruction, a trial court may inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to support the requested instruction. If the evidence does not warrant the instruction, or if the instruction is not appropriate to the crime charged, the trial court is not obliged to give the instruction. See Lessin, 67 Ohio St.3d at 493, 620 N.E.2d at 78. Our review, therefore, is limited to a determination of whether the trial court abused its discretion when it rejected the proposed instruction, finding that this requested instruction was not pertinent to the crime charged. State v. Wolons (1989), 44 Ohio St. 3 d 64, 541 N.E.2d 443, paragraph two of the syllabus. An abuse of discretion may be found if the trial court's attitude was unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable. See State v. Montgomery (1991), 61 Ohio St.3d 410, 413, 575 N.E.2d 167, 171.

In order to successfully present the affirmative defense of self-defense, a defendant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that: (1) the defendant was not at fault in creating the violent situation, (2) the defendant had a bona fide belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and only could escape by using force, and (3) the...

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